Monday, 31 July 2017

Singapore by way of Ipoh, Pattani and the Thar Desert

It has been ages since I updated my blog. No excuses, my bad.

It's not that I have nothing to report. Quite the contrary, my life has been full and the world has entered a new and more tumultuous state (who knew that was even possible).
Indeed, the last several months were full of new adventures and worthwhile happenings. Here's a list of some of my more interesting travel related activities during the period:
Karachi, Pakistan to China. Yes, I traversed the north-south axis of Pakistan all the way from the southern port city of Karachi to the 4,700 meters high Khunjerab Pass border between Pakistan and the People's Republic of China (PRC). The entire 2,400 kilometers long journey (and back) was done on land, i.e. railways and road. The journey took in many stops along the way, including Multan, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Naran, Hunza, Skardu, Gilgit and Abbottabad.

My journey from Karachi to the Khunjerab pass took my all the way from the shores of the Arabian Sea to the Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges, including to the doorsteps of K-2 (the worlds second highest mountain at 8,600 meters).

The restored Khaplu Fort or Palace located in eastern Baltistan, Northern Pakistan. The palace was originally built in 1840 and now operates as a conserved luxury hotel. 

A view of a remote village located of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Gilgit-Baltistan province. The KKH is the main road artery connecting Pakistan with the southwestern Chinese city of Kasghar, Xinjiang. The KKH is a central part of the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which runs from Kasghar, China in the north to Gwadar, Balochistan in the south.

The Pakistan Monument located in Islamabad's Shakarparian Hills. The complex contains a heritage museum and expansive gardens which are a popular picnic spot for visitors from Pakistan's federal capital. 

Pattani, Thailand. Ok, conventional wisdom suggests travellers stay away from Thailand's Muslim majority deep south because of the 'low level insurgency.' Nonsense! Pattani was about as laid back and peaceful a place to de-stress as an idyllic beach in Zanzibar. What's not to like about an area which blends the Malay and Thai culture into one! Even getting to Pattani is a happy adventure. Take the overnight train from Bangkok to Hat Yai. Rent a  car in Hat Yai – GPS required – and drive along the coast to Pattani. There is little doubt I will be back in Pattani as soon as I can fit it into my travel calendar!

The journey from Bangkok to Pattani is best done by overnight train to Hat Yai in Songkhla province. From Hat Yai to Pattani is a short drive of about two hours. 

The Pattani Central mosque in Pattani city (Pattani is also the name of a province). The mosque was completed in 1954 and has beautiful gardens and a pond in its complex. 
Pakistan's Thar Desert and interior Sindh. Few are aware that in many areas of Pakistan's Sindh province Muslims are a minority – these are Hindu majority regions. Towns (cities?) like Mithi, Umerkot and Islamkot are places where Hindus and Muslims have lived together side by side for centuries. As one (Hindu) resident put it to me, "We [Hindus and Muslims] share in each others' happiness and sorrows. We attend each others' weddings and funerals." As a result of the demographic mix one finds a unique cultural heritage not found anywhere else in the world. The two communities share graveyards (Hindus here often bury not cremate their dead) and worship together at colorful shrines of holy men. Restaurants offer vegetarian menus. It's a world where religious harmony and common space – albeit shrinking - still exist.

My travels around Sindh province took me right to Pakistan's eastern border with India. I covered many towns during y travels, including Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Islamkot, Nagarparkar and Mithi.  

Hindu - Muslim bhai bhai! A Hindu religious symbol and an Islamic crescent and star symbolically tied together on a pole which hung outside a Hindu temple in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, Pakistan. The area has a large Hindu population, one which outnumbers Muslims in many regions.
Ipoh and Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Some suggest Ipoh is Malaysia's next Melaka. Given how commercialized tourism has become in Melaka there is much truth in the statement. Until today, Ipoh exudes the authenticity of a Chinese city in the heart of Malaya. This means old Chinese neighborhoods, temples and even cemeteries. Additionally, Ipoh is a nice stopping point for the journey to Cameron Highlands. Cameron Highlands is more than simply the home of BOH tea. It is one of the few places on the Malayan peninsula where one may escape the searing heat and humidity of the tropics. Cameron Highlands has a cooler temperate climate relative to the typical heatstroke inducing temperatures of Singapore.

The colonial era Ipoh railway station stands majestically in the city's colonial district. Ipoh has a nice mixture of Malay, Chinese and colonial heritage all blended together into a compact city.
Nanjing, Tianjin and Beijing, China. China has a charm of its own. Unlike Singapore's history which is measured in decades, China's history is measured in centuries. So there is always something historic to experience in China, no matter which part. As former and current capitals of China, history flows from Nanjing and Beijing like sweat flows from one's body in the tropics of Malaya. Tianjin? As a port near Beijing it has a special place in China's history, especially in the country's more recent colonial history as symbolized by the Treaty of Tientsin 1858 which ended the first phase of the Second Opium War.

A Chinese guard near a beautifully manicured flower display in Beijing, China. 

A view of the Niujie Mosque courtyard and minarets located on Cow Street, Beijing. The mosque is Beijing's oldest and traces its origins to the year 996. A newly wed Hui Chinese Muslim couple are taking photographs in the mosque courtyard. Note the Han Chinese design and features so clearly visible in the mosque minarets (pagodas?) and roof designs. 
Now that I am back I hope not to be so lazy in the future. Fingers crossed. I will update my blog more often; I will share my thoughts more often; I will keep you informed of my travels (and opinions) more often. Trust me .... 

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at